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Although no competitions are in sight, the Wando Band marches on

Noah Song scans a QR code on a music stand propped outside the Wando Band classroom door. He has just arrived for their Tuesday afternoon rehearsal where he will join half of the band for nearly three hours of practice on the band field. He scans in and completes a health assessment survey on his phone ensuring he has not been exposed to anyone with COVID-19 and is not experiencing symptoms.

The new sign in process for band practice is strange, but the kids are getting used to it. Director Bobby Lambert explains they have only had one of the band’s 200 students test positive for COVID due to an outside interaction. He said the band instructors are doing everything they can to maintain the safety and well-being of the students and instructors.

The assessment each student fills out would help him identify exposure from a practice if there was a breakout and narrow down which students were in close proximity.

“There aren’t going to be many great things that come out of COVID. And during all of this, but I think we have found that we can adapt. Our kids are learning how to adapt well,” Lambert said.

The band segments into two groups each week, with half of the band practicing on Tuesdays at 4:45-7:30 p.m. and the other on Thursdays. At practice, the students split into two groups of 50 in order to maintain safe social distancing.

Visual marching rehearsal takes place in the parking lot and the movement rehearsal is held on the band field. Each practice the band members wear masks.

“There are a couple of instruments that they can pull the mask down to play, but as soon as they finish playing they have to put the mask right back up,” Lambert said. “We’re actually transitioning to everybody with a double mask, where the mouthpiece can slide in and they can play while still being masked at the same time.”

They have also purchased bell covers for all instruments with bells to prevent the possibility of any aerosol transmission of the coronavirus.

Lambert said the neoprene and spandex-like material covers cause resistance in some sound registers but they are adjusting. They use the covers both inside and outside to be extra precautious since they began rehearsal on Aug. 17.

He explained some of the new COVID precautionary measures are stifling for the students who come to band to be silly, have fun and express themselves. He said instead of being proactive and moving ahead on their own with practices and warm ups, the student leaders now wait to be in a specific place at a certain time to ensure the safety and social distancing that is required.

“It’s as if you got a new job but you’re in training for the first four months, rather than being able to do the job that you’ve been waiting for three years,” Lambert said.

He said that the school district has been very clear on what the COVID guidelines are and that the students have done a great job doing as they are told to be more careful.

He said that while it is feasible for them to practice via online streaming, it’s not quite the same and he believes the emotional feedback is going to be stunted.

“While you can see everybody on a Zoom, it’s not the same as playing on Zoom,” he explained. “And while the kids are working hard, doing great things; it’s never quite what they remember it to be. And so we’re working through how to find that.”

Lambert explained that band programs throughout the entire country are experiencing between a 10 to 25% drop. At Wando, he said the decline in incoming freshman to the band is due to a fear of COVID and desire to solely focus on school instead of picking up an extracurricular activity.

“What stinks about that is those are the kids who need that social outlet, need that emotional support and need that physical movement more so than anyone else. But once you quit something, it’s really hard to go back” he said.

The band had roughly 245 members last year and this year they have 200. He said that roughly 25 students that would have been in Wando Band are now attending Lucy Beckham High School; six of which that are sophomores that were in Wando Band last year.

The Wando Band will not attend any competitions year. Lambert said they actually put their competitive show on the shelf and instead are doing a show that they hope will engage with the community more than ever before.

Lambert shared that Michael Gray, their creative director, helped create the show’s theme titled “A Brand New Day.”

The 2020 show will open with Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September”, followed by Beyoncé’s song” Count Down” and will conclude with “Chandelier” by SIA.

“When you look at all the things you can’t do you start looking at what you can do. One of the things that we’ve always wanted to do was to engage and interact with the community even more. And we thought the community would need that even more,” Lambert said. “So, we wanted to do a Friday night football game that would really engaged and not only the parents, but the students that were there.”

He said that this is very unusual for Wando as they normally play very serious pieces.

“We’re having to really step outside of our comfort zone. Well, to be honest with you, there are no more comfort zones anymore. So we’re sort of jumping in with both feet,” he said.

Caroline Haigh, a senior drum major in the band shared her excitement for her final year in the Wando Band. She said that the band has really adjusted through Zoom meetings over the summer to focus on techniques for a smooth transitioned back to in-person rehearsal. Haigh has been playing the trumpet in band since she was in the sixth grade.

“I love the community we have. These people are people that I trust with my life. We really work hard for something together and there’s a lot of appreciation for each other,” Haigh said. “It is a group activity. You cannot do this (band) by yourself. It’s something special you can only do when you’re all together.”

Haigh said she is excited for the new fun show that she will have the opportunity to be a part of this year. She explained the band has implemented a lot of new safety precautions that she is hopeful will lead to even more opportunities for the band later in the year.

Graham Norman, a freshman in the band, explained he was excited to play the alto saxophone in Wando’s nationally recognized band program.

“You don’t get many opportunities like this,” he said.

Norman will play in his first half-time performance at a Wando football game on Friday evening. He explained that he is looking forward to playing on a large field in front of people.

The band will perform three halftime shows at home football games this fall. On Sept. 25, they will have a pep band of 40 members on the track and at halftime; the entire band will be able to perform the show during the first home football game. They will also perform on Oct. 23 and Oct. 30. They will not perform at the second home game due to a special presentation scheduled for halftime that will preclude them from playing.

Lambert has also divided the band into nine pep bands so they can do pop up performances within the community. They plan to play at various locations such as the library, town hall, and for their Harmony Band sponsors.

He said it would be similar to a flash mob in that roughly 20 students will show up, play for 15 minutes at a location, and then leave. They will perform outside, wearing masks and socially distanced.

This year the band has implemented upperclassmen as squad leaders that are responsible for underclassmen. They help with memorizing music, making sure they can operate Zoom, assist with uploading videos and as they start talking about uniforms they will make sure everyone has what they need. Lambert said the instructors have been overwhelmed with questions throughout this new process so they are relying on the squad leaders for help transferring information out and answering questions.

Norman explained this has allowed him to learn at a faster pace as he transitions into high school.

“A lot of the upperclassmen have been really nice at introducing themselves and making me feel comfortable,” he said. “I like working with my squad. It helps me focus on the little details and helps make initial friendships.”

Since July, the students have been uploading self-recorded videos of them playing for peer and instructor review.

Throughout the pandemic, the Harmony Sponsors in the community has persisted. Lambert said they have been flexible with sponsors who have not been able to afford the same price given the pandemic, so they have accepted materials and items that help the band.

Lambert expresses that the Bands of Wando’s parent organization is an efficiently operating machine that they do not want to rot away. Therefore, they have created 24 props for this year’s halftime performances.

Also, since Wando’s theater can only hold 123 guests, they are looking into live broadcasting virtual performances in the future.

“Each year the band gets a little more efficient, a little bit stronger and a little more musical. Anytime you see that going in a really good direction there’s a fear that we could get derailed by this (COVID) or can’t keep that momentum,” he said. “There are some fears for sure that come through that.”

He said they work four times more and harder, but the payoff is smaller. However, they look at what the band program will be when there is the medicine to treat COVID and get through that stage.

“We all know that it’s up to us to make sure that we keep this strong, not just for Wando 2020 but for 2021 through 2030,”Lambert said.

How COVID has affected Mount Pleasant hurricane prep

Two disasters at once is how town of Mount Pleasant emergency manager Amanda Knight described it.

The town is urging its residents this hurricane season to prepare more diligently than ever as the nation continues to wade through the varying effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

The same precautions taken in previous years may not cut it this season, Knight said, while also stressing that the brave locals who have ridden out storms in years past must understand that the potential mix of a hurricane hitting this season during the storm of the current health crisis could be unlike anything before it.

“Right now, more than ever, having your plan in place is vitally important,” Knight said. “And how that will be different this year and that you may have to act on that plan pretty quickly is important to understand.”

The Atlantic hurricane season begins in June and lasts through the end of November. The town begins preparing in earnest long before but really never stops as past years and situations are constantly being studied to gain a better understanding of what worked and what was learned and how it can be applied moving forward.

“We’re continuously advancing our practice,” Knight said. “This year has thrown a little bit of a challenged into how we address emergency operation preparedness. Not only from the standpoint of trying to keep our staff safe but also from the standpoint of how hurricanes are changing the way they impact our area.”

Full activation during an emergency scenario includes roughly 300 town staff members. Different departments work together to create the most effective response possible. There are the obvious expectations for positions like first responders but also a long line of duties for personnel in things like logistics and finance that play important roles year-round too. Whether it be public services or even recreation department staff, most everyone employed by the town contributes in some way.

“We utilize our entire organization as needed,” Knight said. “We have an entire planning section that basically keeps us moving forward in anticipation of a response.”

Preparation has been slightly different this year under the stricter health guidelines of the times. Town facilities are cleaned four times a day and, like many organizations, the town is limited in how many people it can host at once. So rather than gathering in-person, things like Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings are regularly used to connect the different departments. The infrastructure has been built to accommodate the network requirements.

The most important things for residents to understand, Knight said, is that this season is different from others. Waiting until the last minute to prepare or thinking because you’ve survived other storms that this will be the same is a mistake this time around. The town is encouraging residents to gather supplies now as so many items are already limited in stores. Residents should tweak their typical storm response plans with the understanding that things like travel and lodging will inevitably be different this year.

“Make sure you’re aware before you travel. If you’re planning to go stay with a family member, look at that location you’re going to and see what kind of COVID precautions they have in place so that you’re prepared,” said Lauren Sims, Chief of Community and Government Affairs in Mount Pleasant. “And do not wait because things can change very quickly overnight. Just because you survived Hurricane Hugo, you should not assume that this would be the same.”

Preparation for the possibility of a debilitating storm should have already been considered by local businesses and the town wants residents to consider the local economy even more once a storm has passed.

“From a responder, infrastructure side, I don’t think we’ll see a lot of variation. The variation is going to be in the economy. The economic impact of a hurricane is only going to be intensified because we’re already in this fragile, vulnerable state,” Knight said. “Businesses are functioning differently right now and we need to make sure that can continue during recovery from a storm. Buy gift cards online. Continue to support these businesses any way you can. This is a whole different scenario than before.”

“Most businesses in our area have it built in to mitigate the effects of a hurricane. But a lot of them are already going through the effects of the pandemic and just now kind of getting back on their feet,” Sims added. “Businesses need to know their limit. What is the point that we can do no more? Know that limit and have backup plans in place to safeguard as best you are able to.”

The town urges residents to stay updated through its online and social media presence. It’s already stocked with important information and will serve as a conduit for more in emergency situations. It’s also important to be sure to rely on official entities for the most accurate information. Much of that starts with the town’s own platforms.

“I think the big point here is that in the case of a hurricane and the severe impacts of a hurricane, let’s keep our wits about us,” Knight said. “We’ve been through the ringer as a community and a state and a globe. Be patient, be flexible, be responsible for ourselves and also let’s try to help each other through this.”